RSS Feed

Monthly Archives: June 2016

Umwelt by Dorothy Lehane (Open House Editions, Leafe Press)

Umwelt by Dorothy Lehane (Open House Editions, Leafe Press)

Umwelt, a term in biosemiotics theorised by Jacob von Uexküll and Thomas A. Seboek, unites all the semiotic processes of an organism into a whole. Each functional component of an umwelt has a meaning and so represents the organism’s model of the world. These functional components correspond approximately to perceptual features, and thus to understanding. Dorothy Lehane’s Umwelt takes the semiotic parameters of the body in trauma as its impulse and uses this frame of reference as a way of exploring patient experience, clinical measures and embodied phenomenological practice.

Umwelt begins with a strong sonic and rhythmic surge into the abyss
of the traumatised body with ‘verbal machinery annexed’ as ‘the body still roams’ and ‘is a throne of abuse’ delineating a split between body and speech. There is a clash between an impersonal use of medical language, as in ‘social pleasures rely on the pineal gland’ or flowing backwards / from the alveolar ridge’ and the implied problems of dysfunction, and a personalised anger leading to a ferocious rant with witty asides. This clash of register is at the heart of the poem’s momentum and success. The poem is both personal and impersonal, being imbued in medical language, emotionally and linguistically powerful as shifting attitudes and understanding of the self and the body’s condition change over time. This produces a powerful testimony, as it is both detached and emotionally charged. The reader feels each attack on the body as they are liberally spread throughout the poem’s 424 lines.

The poem charts the ebbs and flows of the illness, tussles with a surgeon and impending surgery, and how it impacts upon the tongue:

The throaty oesphageal tissue dislodges
as if to say here be nourishment & battle
Keep going & Peer at the womb that haemorrhages post-coitally
Remove the tube & it’s still a sticky mess

The sense of struggle around the mouth, tongue and throat is palpable and leavened by the constant reminder that the female body is specific and under attack.

A comparable recent work might be Sophie Mayer’s (O, 2015), where a series of traumas are registered against the female body and voice. Lehane, though, has her own distinct poetic approach and utterance to the point of rage:

At times I called out MONSTER
We never talk body fluids
The couch & my vicarious trauma
“informed” breach

Much of the poem turns on the concept of ‘disfluency’, a term from pathology meaning ‘impairment of the ability to produce smooth, fluent speech’, or an interruption by a pause or the repetition of a word or syllable. The poem starts with a disfluency in the repetition ‘so tongue in throat’ / ‘so tongue in heart’ / … ‘so tongue in rouge’ / ‘so rouge in ruin’, and favours disfluency as an act of disobedience, which the poem in turn embodies. This embodiment comes through its enjambment, shifts, repetitions and returns, as well as all the internal arguments and self adjustments, which serve to register changes to the body and gives the poem its narrative twists and turns.

What has happened to you is everywhere on the lips of strangers
tiresomely
& I’m never sure if they are talking about my faith or my body

Umwelt imprints on the memory through its linguistic force, strident defiance before and after surgery, and the sheer number of striking lines.

David Caddy 27th June 2016

Advertisements

Hariot Double by Gavin Selerie (Five Seasons Press) £18.50

Hariot Double by Gavin Selerie (Five Seasons Press) £18.50

The successor to Selerie’s Music’s Duel (Shearsman, 2009) has arrived! Hariot Double probes the life of Joe Harriott, the Jamaican saxophonist who was part of the Fifties and Sixties London jazz scene, from birth to death, and that of Thomas Harriot, the Elizabeth and Jacobean astronomer, from death to birth. In between these two narrative portraits lies a contemporary sequence entitled ‘Intermean’ serving to link the two. Both were inspired by diverse cultures. One explored the skies and colony of Virginia and the other London’s Soho and new music.

The opening poem, ‘Formation’, sets the tone. Partly in Jamaican speak the poem oscillates in triumphant wordplay, half staccato and half sliding rhythm. Thus:

‘for muse-ache bent
he’s grained to discover
now sister Ignatius
say you can blow xaymace
summit or sonnet
a cheek tale, akee all split.

As if from nothing
a seed a stalk
reaches.’

The first section evokes the Soho jazz scene through a variety of techniques and approaches, visual and sonic, drawing upon a range of found and documentary materials. Words are split to create more meaning and odd sounds, spare and moving forward to reflect and probe the lifestyle, period and place. The vocabulary, phrases and characterisation, draws the reader deeply into the texture of the musician’s world. The work goes beyond an echo of say the novels of Colin MacInness, such as City Of Spades (1958), into a wider tapestry of musical inspiration, journey and identity.

D-difficult racket, caw from ruin
to Lansdowne leafy block
its staircase winding
to basement den.

Shake and Cole,
you play this (spare)
and see what (ridge) happens.

Coated folding ephemerid
sprite
breaks mel-odic

rule by least
a-goad
the dimdown old heartscape.

All the others they play here in d’room
but what I play is out d’window.

There are not many poets as equally at home with the sonic and visual aspects of the poem as Gavin Selerie. The range of inventiveness and materials brought to light, showing considerable research, is formidable. Alan Halsey’s graphics add texture, drawing upon source materials, and visual depth helping to bed the poems.
Halsey is at home with Renaissance alchemy and astronomy having recently provided images for Nigel Wood’s from the diaries of john dee (apple pie editions, 2015). Each page, poem and visual text is carefully laid out for maximum sound and visual impact. Such consideration comes from taking seven years to bring this major work to fruition.

The Renaissance Harriot section is utterly beguiling allowing a shadowy magus figure from the circles of Sir Walter Ralegh and the ‘Wizard Earl’ Henry of Northumberland to take centre stage. His moon mapping from Syon House, near Richmond, London, preceded that of Galileo. He also drew the Sun, sunspots, and recorded the motions of Jupiter’s satellites. A sense of mathematical, astronomical, ethnological and anthropological exploration flashes through the section, which is written in period language and spelling.

I have merely scratched at the surface of this substantial, 362 page, work, which I thoroughly recommend.

David Caddy 23rd June 2016

For The Future Poems & Essays In Honour Of J.H. Prynne On The Occasion Of His 80th Birthday Ed. Ian Brinton (Shearsman Books)

For The Future Poems & Essays In Honour Of J.H. Prynne On The Occasion Of His 80th Birthday Ed. Ian Brinton (Shearsman Books)

This collection, with a beautiful cover designed by Ian Friend, ranges from the academic to the creative and anecdotal, and is both a festschrift and response to the poet and teacher, showing the awe and gratitude felt by many of his friends and admirers.

To begin with there are some fine poems by John James, Simon Smith, D.S. Marriott, Gavin Selerie, Elaine Feinstein and Rod Mengham in response to the man and his poetry. Several contributors recall the measure and force of tutorials in Prynne’s rooms at Caius Court and provide ample testimony to their challenge, depth and impact. Indeed Michael Grant responds fifty years later to a question asked of him about some lines by T.S. Eliot leading to a fine essay on retroactive and symbolic temporality enacted in the opening lines of Burnt Norton. John Hall eloquently draws the reader into the world of undergraduate Cambridge English 1964-1967, enlisting the memories of Paul Ashton and Colin Still for reading lists and poems discussed, to produce a moving insight into the world of a Prynne tutorial at that time. John Wilkinson recalls the staircase leading to the room that was open to all comers and the walk-in wine cupboard where Veronica Forrest-Thompson was once ‘propelled by the exasperated occupant’. Michael Haslam, Nigel Wheale, Masahiko Abe and Peter Riley also capture a sense of being and place.

Anthony Barnett describes how the first collected edition of J.H. Prynne’s Poems came about and set the template for future editions, a fact that Barnett is not sufficiently recognized for. His efforts are in stark contrast to the troublesome difficulties involved with the appearance of Brass in 1971 accounted for by Ian Brinton. Ian Friend and Richard Humphreys recall their literary and sporting conversations at the Morpeth Arms, Millbank, London leading to an evaluation of The Oval Window.

Prynne’s poetry and essays are covered in various ways and his interests and concerns are well illuminated. Harry Gilonis, for example, gives a highly informative and contextual reading of Prynne’s Chinese poem, ‘Jie ban mi Shi Hu’. Michael Tencer writes on the poem, ‘Es Lebe der König’, written in response to Paul Celan’s death, providing part of the poem’s historical, etymological and literary context in order to open up perspectives on the poem. The title comes from Georg Büchner’s play Dantons Tod and was discussed by Celan in his 1960 Georg Büchner Prize acceptance speech. Anthony Mellors shows how the exchanges in the English Intelligencer from March 1966 to April 1968 shaped a poetics and poetic intervention that has subsequently broadened whilst being cognisant of the sonorities and sedimented sense-patterns of language as historical record. This sense of how Prynne’s poetics and poetry widened and took on the shapes and approaches that it did also comes into the essay by David Herd on Prynne’s 1971 Simon Fraser University lecture on Olson’s Maximus IV, V, VI. Herd shows Prynne scrutinizing and reassessing the defining axis of the poem and Olson’s lexicon from the distinct outlook of viewing from another part of the world. This reassessment establishes a new tension between the rhetoric of lyric, view, geography, spatial geometry and coast and leads Prynne to question how language voices its condition and address the issue in The White Stones. Key terms such as lyric, localism, cosmos, planet, curve, border, home and wanderer are subsequently tested. He thus used the terms of Olson’s epic to reach an understanding of the necessity to register that we are all continuous within language past, present and future. Matthew Hall offers a compelling reading of Acrylic Tips as a response to the colonialisation of Indigenous people in Australia and the politics and lexical complexity of the female pronoun. Hall argues that the structural patterns of landscapes, argot, botanical studies and Indigenous knowledge in the poem are unique to Australia. He cites John Kinsella’s poem, ‘The Hierarchy of Sheep’ as a parallel text stemming from Prynne’s time in Australia with Kinsella.
Joseph Persad notes the way conventional formal structures help focus the emotive artifice employed in the later poems and locates Kazoo Dreamboats within a context of historical protest and resistance citing Prynne’s reading at the 2011 occupation of the Lady Margaret Hall against the government’s dismantling of higher education. This fittingly returns us to the dedication of the 2015 edition of the Poems: ‘For The Future’ and the privilege of being challenged by a mind that firmly believes in pressing on.

This treasure trove of celebratory thoughtfulness, affectionately introduced by Ian Brinton, is reminiscent of Tim Longville’s For John Riley (1979) in the way that it eschews any chronology for a more impressionistic and sonorous response.

David Caddy 14th June 2016

Between So Many Words (Red Squirrel Press) Hut (Woodenhead Pamphlets) by Ric Hool

Between So Many Words (Red Squirrel Press) Hut (Woodenhead Pamphlets) by Ric Hool

The seven pages of text in Ric Hool’s little pamphlet, Hut, open with three assertive lines:

‘Hut is mind
by which man lives
within & outside himself.’

With his hallmark concern for the etymological sources of language J.H. Prynne wrote about the derivation of that little word ‘hut’ and, in his essay ‘Huts’, tells us that its use was first recorded in the seventeenth century, ‘probably from French hutte which is only a little earlier, cognate with Middle High German hütte, Old High German hutta, huttea, perhaps from Old Teutonic hudja with connection from roots meaning to hide, protect, conceal.’ In this 2008 essay, originally published in Textual Practice, Prynne looks closely at ‘Ode to Evening’, the 1746 poem by William Collins before moving from there to focus on the word ‘hovel’ in Shakespeare’s King Lear. He concludes with some thoughts about the meeting that took place in July 1967 between Paul Celan and Martin Heidegger in the latter’s writing hut near Todtnauberg.

Ric Hool’s contrast between ‘within & outside himself’ becomes in that poem’s second stanza (and I use that word advisedly thinking of its own derivation from the Italian for a room) ‘A place of shelter / & invention & / close to the wildwood’. The contrasts between shelter and danger which are contained within the purposes of building a hut are suggested in visual terms in Prynne’s essay when he refers to the title-page of the first edition of Collins’s Odes on Several Descriptive and Allegoric Subjects:

‘The title-page…was adorned with a quite distinctive engraved device, even if not original in this use: within an oval chaplet of leaves and flowers, of which part is laurel and part fruits of the woods and fields, and all surmounted by the twin face-masks of joy and sorrow, is set a pair of musical instruments. Uppermost is a classical lyre, signalling the composure and equipoise of Apollo; and beneath can be seen a set of panpipes, signal of panic urgency and ungoverned passion.’

Ric Hool’s opening poem ends with ‘estrangement’:

‘man from nature
nature from man.’

In ‘Hut 3: Castles & Cabins’ the poet contemplates that space between the self and the other, ‘within & outside himself’, and wonders what might warm a man whose separation from the outside world has been emphasised by a closed door. The conclusion to these contemplations is a trust in language since surely

‘it is nothing that is kept
so bolted and secure it cannot
radiate into the world.’

It is the poet’s words that radiate beyond the closed door and when he goes on to contemplate ‘Why We Use Language’ in the first section of the substantial publication from Red Squirrel Press Ric Hool arrives at the conclusion that ‘There is something / in a word towards reality’. Prynne’s conclusion to his focus on the double-edged sense of huts is that the ‘house of language is not innocent, and is no temple’:

‘The intensities of poetic encounter, of imagination and deep insight into spiritual reality and poetic truth, carry with them all the fierce contradiction of what human language is and does. There is no protection or even temporary shelter from these forms of knowledge that is worth even a moment’s considered preference, even for poets or philosophers with poetic missions.’

Whilst this sense of the baggage of meaning carried by the word-porters is web-like in its binding I have a quiet admiration for the type of experience which Ric Hool seeks to clarify in one of his ‘La Gomera’ poems in Between So Many Words:

‘There is a central idea extending from the kitchen out,
by whatever means, and back, which sustains. It is
not just food but the prattle of everyday happenings
that nourish these people, sure as transfusion,
from the coastline inward; from the island’s heart out.’

These are lovely books and I recommend them both to everyone:
• Woodenhead Press: 5 Merthyr Road, Abergavenny, NP7 5BU;
• Red Squirrel Press: http://www.redsquirrelpress.com

Ric Hool, of course, runs the Hen & Chicks Poetry Readings in Flannel Street, Abergavenny and it will be worth going to hear Peter Hughes read next week on June 14th.

Ian Brinton 9th June 2016

%d bloggers like this: